Men's Vogue

When I first happened upon a copy of Men's Vogue a little ways back, a single question immediately sprang to mind: Why? Why, God, why? (Wait, that's two questions.)

I don't think I was alone in this reaction. After all, the Vogue brand is more closely associated with brittle supermodels and couture, Milanese if not Juicy, than with anything vaguely furry-chested. And while there remains many a metrofella who exalts in the virtue of patinaed valises, duly trimmed nostril hair and the everything-to-everybody splendor that is Ultimate Supreme-O Guy's Guy George Clooney, quite a bit of top-flight competition already existed for those eyeballs. There seemed no compelling reason to birth another bloated, perfumey compilation of ads aimed at upper-crust men and their finely appointed sideburns, nor a reason for such a publication to appropriate the Vogue moniker.

I probably shoulda read the magazine before making these assumptions. While there's precisely nothing beyond its bimonthly frequency that differentiates Men's Vogue from GQ -- it contains the same mix of fashion, gadgets and dudes with serious jawlines -- it's tough not to be a little bit swayed by the skill with which it goes about its business. Though not always successful in doing so, Men's Vogue at least tries to transcend the genre's conventions.

The November/December issue dispenses with the front-of-the-book, quick-hit product spew, diving instead into a meticulously detailed feature on Italian art detectives. The mag generates a slew of smart feature ideas, actually, the best of which are romps through war-torn Sudan with activist John Prendergast and into the Alaskan wilderness with a kamikaze art duo. In these stories, the mag offers reporting and wonderfully descriptive writing that should be appreciated by anybody who can, like, read.

Men's Vogue also scores points with its smaller, less obtrusive flourishes. It pairs the "Regimen" item about a vibration exercise machine (which sounds vaguely kinky but ain't) with an image depicting the skeletal architecture of a human hand. The photos that accompany the I-wanna-be-a-mogul Hugh Jackman profile play on that very theme, with Jackman posed in a variety of business-type settings and styles. The "Threads" section manages to stir up a few clever ideas, like an item on Lindberghian fashion.

Where Men's Vogue loses me is in its regular descent into first-person silliness. A story on wishful gifting commences with "I once dated a man because of a book," while the piece on this week's Next Big Band finds the writer disappearing into some booze/aging reverie: "It's a law of nature that drink can make age differences dissolve but hangovers stubbornly reinforce them. For the day that follows, my head is a vacuum of insistent pain and recrimination." Uh, sure. So, are there guitars and drums involved?

The mag intensifies this WE ARE GOING TO CALL ATTENTION TO OURSELVES tick in its dippy captions and subheds, which irk to the point of distraction. Elsewhere, it touts an "ultimate" camera that "goes digital without losing its edge" and a typewriter whose "keys make a computer keyboard (F-this, F-that) seem comically self-important." I fancy myself a sporadically literate guy, but I don't have the slightest idea what that latter phrase means. A little help here?

The "Life Studies" portraits are uniformly well-rendered, but each boasts a blurb that, to borrow a wondrous phrase, makes the subject "seem comically self-important." NBC's Jeff Ingold is "no Hollywood hothead: His family life revolves around Flintstones vitamins, basketball, and the pursuit of preppiness." Two pages later, we're told that what makes art guy Adam McEwen tick is "Dentyne Ice, Ludwig drums, and questionable viewing." The next turn of the page finds scientist Hans Keirstead jonesing for speed "whether he's on a bike, in a helicopter, or at the wheel of a Porsche." These individuals are exceptional for their accomplishments; trying to give them an iconoclastic edge via these absurd tripartite captions has the effect of rendering them considerably less three-dimensional and considerably more annoying.

In the end, the good more or less cancels out the bad, and Men's Vogue comes across as a perfectly half-okay magazine. Maybe there's room for another high-end men's title -- after all, guys stuck in waiting rooms need something to read when Sports Illustrated, GQ, Esquire and Men's Health are all off the shelf. Men's Vogue is worth a shot, but you won't find anything here that you haven't seen elsewhere.

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